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Acting over scripting: Bullets impresses

Paul Lewis

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He had somersaulted too hard for his mustache. The sheer force ripped it off and sent it skidding across the floor towards center stage. It wasn’t planned, but, if anything, it soundly encapsulated the intermittent absurdity of “Bullets Over Broadway.”

Written by Woody Allen and premiering on Broadway in 2014, “Bullets Over Broadway” is a musical adaption of a previous movie written by Allen and Douglas McGrath in 1994. The musical centers around young and narcissistic playwright David Shayne as he tries to direct his overwrought script to Broadway fame. The College of the Sequoias Performing Arts is currently flexing its considerable acting muscle on the stage in their production of “Bullets Over Broadway.”

Though the plot itself is little more than a flat Bohemian take on the trope of “Innocence Lost,” something perhaps best attributed to the original script, the cast and crew manage to bring the story to life with well timed comedic beats and some superb acting. When the humor is present, it is usually strong, though one or two oddly racial jokes pop out as perhaps in bad taste. The majority of the cast’s onscreen presence was palpable and their performance of the score made the musical numbers shine through, despite the sometimes large disconnect between the music and the action of the play. The score at times felt displaced and somewhat random, especially the inaptly named “Finale,” which was just a supremely out of context rendition of “Yes, We have No Bananas.” However, the songs that do feel at home in the production are surprisingly relevant considering that none of them were written for the play—Allen and Composer Glen Kelly have opted to use largely public domain songs from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

This review would be remiss in not mentioning some of the individual contributions of the cast, in particular Alina Gonzalez, who stole multiple scenes with her depiction of aging diva Helen Sinclair. Gonzalez’s skills were well matched to the character’s strong stage presence and not so subtle debauchery. Additionally, Schyler Mayo rode the fine line between hilarious bombast and purposeful annoyance as Olive Neal, the supremely untalented girlfriend of mob boss Nick Valenti whom he has hoisted onto the production in exchange for financial backing. Mayo manages to portray Olive as what she is, grating and untalented, while still being a joy to watch. In a surprising move in the homestretch of the play, the character of Cheech, a mob bodyguard tasked with watching over Olive, takes center stage. As Cheech, Jack O’Leary manages to make a murderous lunk of a thug somehow human and relatable, a testament to both the writing of the character and O’Leary’s acting prowess. Also of note was the set design, complex enough to convey the scene, while still being minimal enough that it never got in the way, and the costume design, which while sometimes ill-tailored, nonetheless brought the setting to visually impressive life.

The College of the Sequoias’ production of “Bullets Over Broadway” accomplishes what it seems to have set out to do: entertain the audience and perhaps raise a few questions about the integrity of an artist. While at times the story fell flat and a few unfortunate slip ups occurred, handled with aplomb by the cast, “Bullets Over Broadway” shines through as a fun and uncomplicated romp through a stylized 1920’s Broadway. An otherwise pointless story is buoyed by the superb acting, singing, and passion of the crew.

This performance was excellent and, despite the reviewer’s perhaps harsh words on the story itself, it was a delight to experience. College of the Sequoia’s production of “Bullets Over Broadway” is highly recommended and earns an 8/10.

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Acting over scripting: Bullets impresses